Google has a mobile virtual reality platform, Daydream, which now has a headset to go with it. It's called Daydream View.
But with a market already full of VR headsets that range from affordable DIY kits compatible with phones through to head-mounted computers that deliver higher-end graphics, will Daydream thrive or fail?
We think Daydream View's success will boil down to the content that's available for it through Android and the breadth of compatible devices. And right now that's not a whole lot. So here's what we make of Daydream View after playing for a long weekend paired with the Pixel XL.
What phones are compatible with Daydream View?
- Pixel and Pixel XL only compatible phones
- Daydream app from Android 7.1 and up
What is specific, however, is device compatibility. At launch, Daydream View will work with the Google Pixel and Pixel XL phones (in part as these both run Google's Android 7.1 operating system), but the compatible device base will expand over the coming months (the rumoured OnePlus 3T is a likely addition, for example).
With no separate computer required, Daydream View is truly mobile. No annoying wires to be found, and no tether to trip you up. It's a similar design concept to Samsung's Gear VR, although that's an altogether more plasticky setup that's only compatible with some Samsung phones.
How does Daydream VR differ from Google Cardboard?
- Material build for comfort
- Adjustable strap for hands-free fit
- One-handed controller included
Let's rewind for a second. In 2014, Google launched its first foray into VR, Google Cardboard. The name wasn't a misnomer either: Cardboard is, indeed, based around a hold-it-to-your-face cardboard construction, again with a compatible phone slotted inside.
Daydream View is so much more than that. It's different from Cardboard in that it's Android-only and has a set of minimum standards that will ensure image quality, responsiveness, and lag times are significantly better than Cardboard. Hence the current phone compatibility limitations.
Daydream View is differentiated from some other VR headsets, as it comes with a multi-button handheld remote in the box. This lets you interact with games and experiences. It's a one-handed controller, rather than a proper gaming-style controller, so it's easy to use even if you've never gamed. The "welcome" setup demo is a great way of getting familiar with it.
Daydream View headset comfort and fit
- 202 x 116 x 93mm size
- Slate, snow and crimson colours
While the Samsung Gear VR is made of a hard plastic shell, Daydream is made of cushy cloth, with plush, foam innards. It's super comfortable. Actually, it's the most comfortable VR headset we've yet worn. And we've worn many.
Google said it built Daydream View with the help of a shoe and apparel manufacturer, and that's obvious when thinking about it. There around a choice of three colours too: slate, snow, and crimson (we can't help but think moccasins, ballet, and stilettos now).
The headset itself involves no construction out of the box; it's a single piece with an elasticated front flap for slotting in a phone. Although the headset has a plastic frame for rigidity, you can't see it. The sides are firm yet flexible. The face mask is microfibre and attaches via Velcro, so you can take it off and scrub it clean by hand.
One point that's both an upside and downside is that Daydream View has just one adjustable strap. It can be tightened by pulling two buckles along its length. That makes it easy to put on compared to other VR devices. However, it is prone to slip a little down the face, even when secured tight. If there was a top strap, like on the Oculus VR or original Gear VR, it would obviously sit much better on the face.
We used the Daydream View with a Pixel XL for this review. Its 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 resolution looks super crisp, and the whole device easily tucks behind the front panel. It does protrude a bit though, so the normal Pixel will look neater, but the smaller phone sacrifices display resolution (as it's 1920 x 1080).
One thing we really noticed was how hot the Pixel XL phone got after, say, 20 minutes of Daydream use. It wasn't kind on the phone's battery life either.
How to setup Daydream View
- Embedded NFC chip for auto-activation
- Daydream app hub free to download
We received Daydream View pre-launch, with a Google backdoor to access the Daydream app - so your experience may differ slightly to ours. But that shouldn't be an issue, as View is a total doddle to setup.
Step one: download the Daydream app. Step two: slot the phone into the View and secure with the elastic bungee. That's it. The embedded NFC chip will make the phone automatically switch into the Daydream interface (with half the screen designated per eye).
View has two capacitive bumps to determine where your phone is positioned, and so the image automatically aligns itself. Things should be in focus from the get go, which is something you certainly don't get with Cardboard.
If there are any problems with calibration during use, then the remote control's Home button can be pressed and held to reposition the centre view. A quick, simple, and sensible solution.
What can the Daydream View remote do?
- Integrated trackpad for swipe input
- Three primary button controls
- Built-in battery; USB-C charging
Daydream View is defined by its controller: the oblong-shaped plastic wand with a clickable and swipable trackpad, two menu buttons, and a volume rocker.
It acts as an input device, as there's no motion-tracking capabilities, but it has internal sensors that can tell where it is pointing - which is used for lots of point-and-click tasks.
Such a controller takes a little getting used to at first, but the walk-through welcome within the Daydream app is great. You get to play fetch with an arctic fox, spin some planets, shine a torch at an owl and all manner of other childishly fun things.
Give it another 20 seconds after and you'll have it all figured. It's responsive and accurate, so you can use it to scroll through pages, select options from a menu, type on a virtual keyboard, or do other tricks in Daydream-compatible apps.
A great example is Warner Bro's Fantastic Beasts. In this we found ourselves standing inside a cabin and using the motion-controlled remote as a magic wand to open chests and scrolls and cast spells. More childish wonderment ensues.
To charge the remote, simply plug in the included USB-C cable. We're not sure how much juice you'll get. We only charged the remote for 30 minutes when we first received it, and we've used it for at least a few hours since then, so we're betting it's not exactly a battery hog.
When you want to store the remote, tuck it into the groove on the inside of the front panel of the headset, and firmly affix it with the elastic loop. Simple.
Daydream app: The hub of Google VR
- Daydream app for Android only, not iOS
When you open the Daydream app (without slotting it into View), you'll see featured apps and recommendations. It's like the hub of Google VR.
Within the app, there's a Discovery screen of suggested apps in Play Store, your library of Daydream-compatible apps installed on your phone, and Settings to configure your notifications, Daydream keyboard, and more.
It's a neat and tidy access point into VR content, much like the Google Cast app serves to manage all your Cast devices in the one place. We like.
What can I view Daydream View?
At launch, there is only a handful compatible apps for Daydream view: YouTube, which you can use to watch 360-degree content in a cinema-style manner with spatial audio to boot; Street View, which lets you visit over 70 countries and 150 VR tours; Play Movies, which like YouTube, provides access to a cinema-style experience with thousands of movies and TV shows to choose from; and Google Photos, which lets you step inside your own VR photos and panoramas, including ones taken with the Cardboard Camera app.
We noticed a slight hiccup, however, with Play Movies. The app has to be setup outside of VR, meaning we had to open the Play Movies app on the Pixel, and then follow the on-screen instructions prior to using it in VR. Google said this should be fixed by launch, though.
Google has also brought its Arts & Culture project to Daydream View, so you can zoom-in and view artworks curated by museums from around the world.
Other apps include Wonderglade and Star Chart VR, the latter of which lets you explore the solar system in a real-time space simulation. It's amazing.
What can I play on Daydream View?
There are a few games available for Daydream, too, which is likely to be a major focus point of the device going forward.
Our favourite so far is Warner Bros' Fantastic Beasts. If you're a huge fan of Harry Potter and have always wanted to step foot in a wizarding world, this is the Daydream app for you. We thought it was cute, immersive, and fun.
By default one of the panels gives access to install Wonderglade, another cutesy farm-based series of mini-games, where we've most enjoyed one similar to Super Monkey Ball (if anyone doesn't remember that on the Nintendo Wii, it's all about deft controller-based movements to guide a rolling object around a course; or, in old skool terms, you'd know it as a pinball maze).
We've also played Hunter's Gate, which is a third-person shoot-em-up, and the cutesy 3D puzzler Mekorama VR. The latter we did wonder if it really needed to be VR at all, though.
Google said more apps will be launching alongside View on 10 November 2016. If Google comes out of the gate with a tonne of Daydream-compatible apps and games, then it'll be onto a winner. Because, without them, View is just a shell. A very comfy shell, but a shell nonetheless.
The few apps that are available now are enough to keep you busy and excited for a few days, but over time, we suspect you're going to need a bit more in order to feel compelled enough to put your phone into the Daydream interface and then sit closed off in a headset for hours at a time.
One point to make is that Daydream View isn't going to be the only Daydream-compatible headset. Other manufacturers may release their own versions based on Google's reference design in the coming months. They'll be similar to Daydream View in that they'll be required to use specific optics, phones must fit into all the headsets the same way, and they'll all need to work with a standardised controller.
Beyond that, the only difference you will see is price. And Google is hoping that its £69 ($79 USD) asking price is cheap enough for you to forget about Samsung Gear VR and go bag a Pixel phone instead. And you know what? It's a really compelling proposition, given it's the easiest to put on and most comfortable VR experience we've used, bar none.
The next step to grow success depends on content. That's a given. On day one there's a decent spread of experiences and games for View - such as Fantastic Beasts, Mekorama, Hunter's Gate, Wonderglade and more - but we're in early-days territory here and are already pining for more. A year from now, we'll have a better idea of whether DayDream View will truly thrive.
Google Daydream View VR: Alternatives to consider
It's a similar price, but the plasticky fit is not nearly as comfortable as Google's offering. Samsung, being Samsung, also locks you in to using the latest Galaxy smartphones only - which, while that might be a problem for some, does come with the added lure of exclusive content, such as the excellent Land's End.
If VR feels like the thing for you, then Sony has arguably the best offering on the market in its PS VR. Sure, you'll need to buy a PlayStation 4 to play it (or maybe a PS4 Pro) - but with some great deals on the PS4 Slim at the moment, the headset and console could cost you less than a Pixel XL phone would in the first place. Plus there's loads of exclusive Sony content.
If you're ultra-serious about VR then HTC has the daddy of all devices: Vive. With this clever kit you can plot a play arena to move around in, relative to the game, which gives it a real unique selling point. The quality is exceptional too. Only thing is you'll need a beefy PC to run this baby properly - and that's where the unseen cost comes into play.